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How a Book Gets Written

Once I decide what I want to write the next book on, the fun begins.  Or rather, the work begins.  I’m not sure I’d classify any part of the whole process as “fun.”  There are certainly enjoyable elements, but I think what drives me is wanting to have the very best end product possible.   Having *done* a book is fun; doing the book is less fun.  If I had to label it as anything I guess I’d say it’s intense.

The work goes through a number of distinct stages, each of them challenging in different ways and requiring different skills.  I think that’s why it’s so hard to write a good book and why so few authors are able to pull it off.  There are various skill-sets required, not one.  And if you’re deficient in any of them, the book simply isn’t going to be very good.

Even before you start you have to decide what is the heart and soul of what you want to accomplish in your book.  That involves knowing what your over-arching point is.  You certainly know the topic already (Greek manuscripts; or contradictions in the New Testament; or the spread of Christianity; or the development of views of the afterlife); but what is the *point* you want to make about it?  You need to know that at the very outset of your work, because it will affect everything you do from the get go, from choosing what to read and knowing how to read it and how to take notes on it and how to devise the book and how to write it.

You start by reading.  And that means you have to know how to know …

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The Tricks of Writing for a General Audience
How I Write a Trade Book for a General Audience



  1. Avatar
    Wilusa  May 17, 2018

    Since you ask professional colleagues to read your work-in-progress and offer advice, I assume you do the same for them. How does *that* impact scholars’ lives? Do you ever have to deal with the distraction of being asked to read someone else’s work-in-progress while you’re writing your own?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 18, 2018

      Yes, it’s part of the task. Tomorrow I have to read an article from a scholar who wants to get it published and a fellowship application for another. Just what we gotta do….

  2. Avatar
    forthfading  May 17, 2018

    Dr. Ehrman,

    Were you as controversial in the Christian community before you started writing for a general audience? Is the issue the fact that you have taken what was concealed within the ivory tower and made it available to anyone interested?


    • Bart
      Bart  May 18, 2018

      Nope, not at all. And I had pretty much the same views then! But some people don’t like to hear them aired!

  3. Avatar
    rivercrowman  May 17, 2018

    Bart, you didn’t mention assigning an exact title to your next book. Whatever it is, many of your fans are praying it “trumps” Misquoting Jesus. … Look forward very much to the book!

    • Bart
      Bart  May 18, 2018

      Ha! Funny story about that title. Not sure if I’ve told it on the blog, but maybe I will again.

  4. talmoore
    talmoore  May 17, 2018

    Dr. Ehrman, I’m curious, what are some of the most significant books you have read or are planning to read for your book on the afterlife?

    And if you don’t mind me recommending some books I think you would be remiss not to read — assuming you haven’t read them or are planning to read them already — which I believe could give you tremendous inside into what early Christians thought about the soul, the afterlife and judgment after death.
    1. Plato:
    — Euthyphro (for the original philosophical dilemma of Divine Justice and Divine Command Theory)
    — Phaedo and Phaedrus (for the Platonic ideas of the soul)
    — Timaeus (on Platonic ideas of cosmic order)
    — The Republic (for Platonic ideas of justice and the tripartite soul)
    — Gorgias (particularly the end discussion on judgment after death)
    2. Aristotle:
    — On the Heavens
    — On Generation and Corruption
    — On the Soul
    — On Dreams & On Prophesying by Dreams
    — The Metaphysics Bks. 13 & 14

    • Bart
      Bart  May 18, 2018

      I believe I’ve read most of the relevant Greek, Roman, Jewish, and Christian sources, and tons of the modern scholarship. Among the most helpful broad overviews are the books by Alan Segal and Jan Bremmer.

  5. Avatar
    leobillings@cox.net  May 17, 2018

    After suffering through undergraduate and graduate school, I’ve determined that the goal of most academicians who write books have one overarching goal in mind. That is, to see how many words they can cram into one sentence. (lol)

    • Bart
      Bart  May 18, 2018

      There one was a man from Japan,
      Whose poetry no one could scan,
      When told it was so
      He said yes I know.
      It’s because I put as many words into the last line as I can.

  6. galah
    galah  May 17, 2018

    Dr. Ehrman, you’ve stated that the Gospels aren’t historically based like the writings of other ancient historians, and they don’t claim to be. Will we ever, with certainty, know anything more about the historical Jesus than we know now? Or, have we reached the end of the road, so to speak?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 18, 2018

      I think it’s impossible to say. But almost certainly in 40 years scholars will think *different* things about him than we do. It’s just the natures of scholarship.

  7. Avatar
    jmmarine1  May 18, 2018

    If Forged is a trade book based on your Oxford tile, Forgery and Counterforgery, was Misquoting Jesus designed to be the trade book version of Orthodox Corruption of Scripture? If not, do you think that you could produce a trade version of Orthodox Corruption, or is this topic simply too technical?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 18, 2018

      Well, kind of I suppose. I wouldn’t write another trade book on the topic because I devote a chapter to it in Misquoting, and would not want to write a book on such a similar topic.

  8. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  May 18, 2018

    I look forward to the next post. You do have a well developed gift for writing about a central idea. I used to read many papers submitted to a psychiatry journal. My main advice was usually: Make an outline before you start writing. It was often quite obvious when the author had not done this.

  9. Avatar
    fishician  May 18, 2018

    I am re-reading “Forged.” In thinking about 2 Thessalonians and 2 Peter, were the authors trying to save face for Paul and Peter? Peter and Paul believed and taught that Jesus’ return was imminent, but they died, with the other first generation disciples, and no return. So, did later disciples write these letters to make it appear Paul and Peter clarified their views so that they would not look like false prophets? In other words, they were actually trying to protect the reputations of Peter and Paul (and therefore the whole religion). Or do you think they simply wanted to put forth their own views about the 2nd coming and simply appropriated the names of Peter and Paul to give their works authority?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 18, 2018

      I’ve always thought the latter, but the other is an interesting idea….

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